By Walter Nicklin
In 1971 (I believe the year was), doing legwork for my very first story on Rappahannock County, I had the honor to interview Jim Bill Fletcher on several occasions. Politically, it was in the waning days of the old “Byrd Machine,” and Fletcher could still be counted upon “to deliver the votes.”
Whether or not he was literally the “county boss” (as many residents claimed), there was no dispute that he knew Rappahannock just about as well as anybody. And I’ll never forget the gist of what he had to say about Post Offices:
Once they get rid of the old country Post Offices, which often double as country stores, you’ll see the disappearance of traditional America. Out in the country, Post Offices are where neighbors run into each other and exchange views even if they don’t like each other. Each encounter is like a civics lesson. Post Offices are rural versions of the public square.
I find this memory resurfacing with news of the planned relocation of the Town of Washington’s Post Office to a brand new building outside of town. The relocation is what the avatar “majority of the community” wants, as communicated to the Post Service decision-makers through behind-the-scenes, don’t-drain-the-swamp-yet lobbying.
“Be careful what you wish for,” runs the old adage, and I wonder if the “majority of the community” thought through the possible consequences of his/her desire? Here’s one (not totally unlikely?) scenario:
Five years hence, the Rappahannock Board of Supervisors meeting on Feb. 22, after a spirited debate, decides in a 3-2 vote to sell the county offices and courthouse to private business interests. The proceeds will be used to build a new, state-of-the-art county government complex at what’s become known as the Rappahannock strip mall where the bank and new Post Office are already located. (That the BOS meeting is on George Washington’s birthday is, as one observer notes, “ironic, to say the least.”)
“Our employees spend way too much time in their cars driving back and forth conducting county business at the bank and Post Office,” in the words of one supervisor. “In any event, the current historic buildings need repair — which to do it right will cost much more than building big, beautiful walls of brand-new brick to house our operations. Taxpayers are always our first consideration.”
A second traffic light should mitigate any congestion, according to county planners, who approved the county’s first stoplight there four years earlier and are now expected to approve a Dollar Store, full-service gas station and fast-food franchise at the same location. “People doing business at the courthouse complex need a convenient place to shop, eat and fill up their cars,” according to a supervisor whose constituents include several grass-fed cattle operations. “I’ve been assured that the hamburger patties will contain at least 10 percent locally sourced beef.”
Meanwhile, plans are proceeding to close the Sperryville Post Office and consolidate its operations at the new Post Office next to the bank. “After all, the new Post Office is just about as close to Sperryville’s zip code as it is to Little Washington,” in the words of a senior Postal Service official. “Our mission is efficiency.”
As for the private business interests buying the historic Courthouse complex, they have been revealed to be a partnership of new residents calling themselves “Make Rappahannock Great Again.” They intend to enter into a joint marketing agreement with Olde Virginy Theme Park, LLC. The plan is to populate the old buildings, indeed most of the town, with reenactors showing how townspeople used to congregate in the public square and talk with one another before social media. The town’s streets will be closed off to create a tourist-friendly bike trail. Near where the old Post Office and cafe once were will be a commemorative plaque to the “majority of the community” — shorthand for the way democracy is supposed to work.